Bring on the band
Cal’s marching musicians promise winning performance, no matter what happens on the field

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs



Bottom: Cal Band tuba players strut across the football field in this 1981 photo.
Photo courtesy of Cal Marching Band

14 November 2001 | Success has been a fickle mistress to Cal’s football program, whose victorious seasons have alternated with streaks of dismal failure. But for students, fans and alumni, there’s one thing they can count on when game day rolls around: the high-stepping choreography and musical prowess of the Cal Marching Band, a campus institution for more than a century.

And with the 104th Big Game just around the corner (12:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17 at Stanford), the band promises an afternoon of quality entertainment, regardless of what happens on the field.

“We support the team no matter what the score is,” said band director Robert Calonico. “Some students get upset about losing, but when it’s time to perform, that’s the last thing we think about.”

“I’m always hopeful. I’ve been through three Big Game losses in a row, so we’re due,” said band manager David Wagner, a senior majoring in engineering, of the match-up between the 0-9 Bears and the Stanford team, ranked 13th in the nation. “The Bears have nothing to lose so they’ll be putting their hearts into the game, and so will the band.”

Week’s activities
Saturday’s Big Game performance caps a busy week of activity for the band, which has pulled out the stops for 65 performances at luncheons, fundraisers and reunions throughout the Bay Area.

On Friday, a “Battle of the Bands” in San Francisco brings the Cal group horn-to-horn with its cross-bay nemesis. The match-up, though competitive, is usually a friendly affair, according to players in both camps.

“They’re a good group of people,” said Wagner of the Cardinal band. “We have a good-natured rivalry.”

Said Charlie Pollack, manager of the Stanford group, “We actually have a lot of things in common. Beneath the surface, we have a similar mentality.”

Only five college bands in the nation are student run, the Cal and Stanford bands among them. Both groups love to perform, like to have a good time and don’t take things too seriously, said Pollock.

Similarities end there.

Despite Berkeley’s liberal reputation, its band has adopted the hallmarks of tradition — military-style uniforms, a high-stepping march style, intricate and exacting choreography, and time-honored fight songs.

The more conservative Stanford campus, meanwhile, is home to a band renowned for its irreverence. Members “scatter” rather than march onto the field. Their “uniforms” are an ever-changing, free-form assemblage heavily laden with buttons and badges, and their theme is the early 1970s rock hit “All Right Now.” Crazy antics, on and off the field, have resulted in their banishment from airlines, hotels and other universities.

The Cal Band, of course, has pulled its share of pranks as well, particularly during Big Game week.

Last year, to honor Gerhard Casper’s last year as president of Stanford, a handful of Cal trumpet players made its way onto the campus at 2 a.m. to serenade him at full volume outside his residence.

Whatever the mischief, the play list and the Bears’ season stats, Cal Band members tend to form strong bonds — often for a lifetime.

“They go through an ungodly amount of time together, anywhere from six to 18 hours a week,” said Calonico of the Cal Band. “There’s no academic credit and the students have to pay a lot of expenses out of their own pockets, so it’s the friendships that keep them involved.”


Did you know ...
A recent portrait of the Cal Band, by numbers


Home | Search | Archive | About | Contact | More News

Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.

Comments? E-mail